Creative Problem Solving: Habits That Need Changing

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Creative Problem Solving: Habits That Need Changing

MANY MANAGERS ARE UNAWARE OF THE IMPACT THEY have on the creativity of their departments. Certain managerial habits that are productive at other times can stifle employee problem solving and create a work environment in which workers feel uncomfortable about offering their ideas for consideration. Fortunately, these habits can be changed. New behavior patterns that stimulate creative thinking can be substituted for the six identified here. The Quick Fix, the Stifler, the Gauntlet, the Timer, the Controller, and the Distractor are all labels describing habits of managers that have one over-riding fault in common: They can impair the creativity of employees. Are you guilty of practicing these? To find out, let's look more closely at them.

Avoid the Quick Fix

The Quick Fix happens when you and others settle on the first adequate solution to a problem you are discussing and thereby deny your creative ability to find a better solution. The danger of this habit is that it enables the mind to cling to old perspectives that were successful during previous problem solving.

Getting out of the Quick Fix is easier said than done. But one way is to set a quota of five to ten new and different ideas before choosing a solution. Another way is to list ideas non-evaluatively in a three-minute mini-brainstorming session before proceeding further.

Another unfortunate habit associated with the Quick Fix is rushing to generate solutions before actually defining the problem. Then it is almost impossible to avoid old perspectives. To solve problems creatively, we need to examine as many perspectives as possible, and this can be accomplished only by looking at the problem from various aspects, even stepping back from the problem and pretending to be someone else.

Gaining new perspectives can come about in many ways: if you deliberately reverse and distort your view of the problem; if you systematically list what you like about the current situation and what you would like improved; if you conscientiously answer the why, who, what, where, when, and again why about the given problem; and so on. The power in these approaches lies not in generating a specific new idea but in the process that opens the mind to a multitude of new perspectives. Remember, there is research that suggests people who first spend time defining problems produce ideas that are more creative than people who rush to generate solutions first.

Avoid stifling

The Stifler is probably the habit that most impairs the creativity of others. Try it out for yourself. Before you read further, write down five to ten comments about the following idea: Let's train bears in the north woods to climb telephone poles in winter and shake loose the ice that accumulates on the transmission wires. Don't read on until you've done this.

Now, categorize your responses. Put an "I" by any response that showed an interest in the idea; a "P" if your response was truly positive; an "N" if your response was negative; a "C" if your response indicated curiosity as to why the idea was proposed; and an "NC" if it was neutral.

What have you got? If you're like most people, the most common response is negative, even ridicule though I merely asked for comments. Quick negative criticism is very common to our society--and very destructive of creativity.

Still, a manager must give honest opinions about new ideas. How can you do this without stifling creativity?

I suggest three approaches:

The first is I.P.N.C. That is, in responding to an idea, try to see that your first comments indicate interest (I) in the idea and what your subordinate thinks. This should be followed by all the positive (P) comments you can muster. Then you can state your negative (N) comments but as concerns. Finally, indicate curiosity (C) about why the idea was proposed or how your concerns can be dealt with. …